The rapper destigmatizes anger in her music and inspires an entire generation of listeners
Rico Nasty’s music and persona have been setting the internet alight in recent years. She released her first tape, Summer’s Eve, in 2014 without any major promotion or distribution. After becoming pregnant with her son and experiencing the loss of her ex-boyfriend, she took a break from music but returned with a game plan to create buzz. Her single “iCarly” was released in 2016, gaining more than 10,500 views in under a week. Keeping her fans at the edge of their seats, Rico released “Hey Arnold” a few months later and gained attention from Lil Yachty, who then joined her for a remix of the song. This year, the rapper landed a spot in XXL’s Freshman Class and continues to sell out shows on her ongoing world tour.
Setting herself apart from other contemporary artists with her rocker-taste in fashion, raspy voice, and scream-rap songs, Rico Nasty is adding her own spin to a culture of rebellion and self-definition. In a 2018 interview with Pitchfork, she remarked, “I try to say rowdy, reckless sh*t because girls need that.” Her rise to fame is shaping the way Generation Zs like her express and define rage.
Viral culture is premised on sparking emotional responses to gain traction and engagement, and Rico keeps that anger at the forefront of her music.
A lot of Rico Nasty’s branding success as an artist has been her artistic reappropriation and dramatization of anger through her hardcore lyrics, gothic makeup and fashion, and punk visuals. Viral culture is premised on sparking emotional responses to gain traction and engagement, and Rico keeps that anger at the forefront of her music. She toys with anger in a humorous way, with a knowledge of how people view her, exaggerating her anger to cause simultaneous intimidation, empowerment, and self-rejuvenation.
Global audiences wouldn’t be ready for Rico’s outlandish and unapologetic rage, however, if it weren’t for the works by black women artists before her, those who have pushed the boundaries of their audiences’ comfort, making room for Generation Z artists like Rico Nasty to define emotionality, blackness, and gender for themselves.
One of the key players in paving the path forward for bold and unapologetic women of color like Rico Nasty was Roxanne Shanté, who released her confrontational track “Roxanne’s Revenge” at only 14 years old. Shanté was a challenge to the competitive masculinities around her who sought power through their lyricism and ability to gain the attention of women. She sets the record straight in the 1985 release, letting them know she is too well established for them and rejects their advances, “So, if you’re tryin’ to be cute and you’re tryin’ to be fine/You need to cut it out ’cause it’s all in your mind.”
Shanté’s rise to fame stirred rivalry with rappers like KRS-One, who dissed her on “The Bridge Is Over.” She did not take threats and disrespectful remarks kindly and recalls being ready for a physical confrontation with him when they crossed paths in a bank one day.
After taking a break from music, Shanté reentered the scene in 1992 with her second and final studio album, The Bitch Is Back, exposing only the side of her leg and hand and holding a pistol on the album cover. Her 1992 release reclaimed the B-word and forever shaped “bad bitch culture,” creating fantasy in the media surrounding “angry black women” who could kill you.
Shanté’s prior releases that featured her screaming prepared the public for Kelis’ 1999 release “Caught Out There.” In the music video for the track, Kelis alludes to taking physical revenge on her cheating ex, uniting women through both the song’s message and the group of protesting “angry women” who join her in the visual production. Her impact was heavy and shifted public perception; her influence encouraged the acceptance of “alternative black girls” globally. Steering a revolution in fashion with her multicolored ’fros and coats, Kelis allowed women of color to own their anger and express themselves loudly, whether through clothing or screaming: “I hate you so much right now. Aaaagh!”
Every time a woman of color in the present generation is empowered and celebrated, the names and ideas of a prior generation echo through the air. As the chords of an electric guitar screech through speakers at Rico Nasty’s concert, the audience scream-raps, “Rage! Rage! Raaage!” revving Rico into the room and aligning her with every woman of color who ever raged before her.
The Lady of Rage conditioned her audience into mouthing the same incantations as they called her to stage. Her 1997 release, Necessary Roughness, starts with an introductory track named “Riot.” The song is a fictional news podcast following a riot in Beverly Hills. As the news reporter addresses the listener, an angry group of rioters collectively screams behind her, “We want Rage! We want Rage,” referring to not only the embodiment of rage but also the Lady of Rage herself.
“Rico has shown me that I am not alone. There are other women of color who feel angry. Given the condition of the world, there is plenty to be angry about.”
Aligning herself with Death Row Records and various “gangster rappers” of the time, the Lady of Rage didn’t seek to hyperfeminize herself and challenged gender norms for black women worldwide with her sense of fashion. Other artists in the same generation, including MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, joined her in calling out patriarchy and standing side by side with tough people of color, irrespective of gender. Releasing “Afro Puffs” in 1994, Snoop Dogg cosigns the Lady of Rage’s toughness throughout the song, affirming her claims of being the “roughest” and the “toughest.” Similar to Rico Nasty, she makes various threats of taking physical measures if people do not respect her space, with explicit lines like, “Beat it, don’t let me get heated/Or you just might get stretched out like Sealy Posturepedic,” emphasizing the power of women of color to take matters into their own hands.
Rico Nasty’s 2019 mixtape, Anger Management, guides the listener through an audio therapy session, dealing with anger through release instead of suppression. What distinguishes the impact of her anger from the impact made in previous generations is the digital community she exists within — her digital releases spark instant conversations with people all over the world. Daily, fans write posts discussing Rico Nasty’s influence, fueling conversations about mental health and the validity of rage for women of color. One fan, Tanyika Lungreen, explains, “Rico has shown me that I am not alone. There are other women of color who feel angry. Given the condition of the world, there is plenty to be angry about. Her music makes me feel connected to other women of color who feel angry and don’t exactly want to calm down instantly.”
The 2019 mixtape takes the listener on a catalytic journey of emotions, ranging from high-speed, high-energy rage to calm melodic songs that console and reflect on the fire. Rico Nasty begins the tape in her signature scream-rap style with “Cold,” reiterating messages from the Lady of Rage and Roxanne Shanté of standing your ground as a woman of color: “Don’t do no arguin’, we do the opposite. N****s go crazy, got hands like an octopus.” She ends the mixtape with reflective songs like “Sell Out,” in which she explains that “the expression of anger is a form of rejuvenation,” pointing out that not only do we have a right to feel angry, but we also have the right to feel good about releasing it.
At 22, Rico Nasty has already made a significant impact in shaping cyber perceptions of “black woman rage,” fearlessly leaning into and out of anger. In every step she takes toward expressing herself without bounds, Rico Nasty continues the work of expanding the horizons of who black girls can be for generations to come.